Disco Doc Series Coming to PBS in Time for Pride

Disco is getting the PBS treatment, so before heading out to the Solid Gold Tea Dance with the other bears, make sure to check this documentary out!

PBS tackles the surprising and overlooked history of disco – the preeminent popular music of the 1970s – in a three-part series, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution. Announced by PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger during her executive session at the network’s TCA Winter Press Tour in February, the docuseries captures the story of disco: its rise, its fall, and its legacy. From the basement bars of ‘70s New York City to the peak of the global charts, along with iconic tracks and remarkable footage, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution offers a powerful, revisionist history of the disco age. Told by the original musicians, promoters, and innovators – as well as modern-day musical icons – this BBC Studios Production will have a special early release of all three episodes on PBS.org and the PBS app on June 1. The television broadcast premiere will follow on Tuesday, June 18 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS.

Disco embodied the height of 1970s glamour: a dance floor culture born in New York City that went on to take over the world. But its success also obscured its wider significance. Inextricably bound up with the major liberation movements of the 1970s, disco speaks to some of the biggest issues of today: LGBTQ+ identity and female empowerment. 

“Charting disco from its inception and global domination to the violent attempts to end the genre, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution reclaims its roots,” said Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and general manager, general audience programming at PBS. “Before commercialization, discothèques belonged to the marginalized and the dispossessed, who tapped into the beat-driven music and the disco scene in a battle for community, identity, and inclusivity.”

Jonathan Rothery, head of popular music TV/commissioning editor, factual, at the BBC says: “There’s no doubt that disco had an enormous impact—not just on the musical landscape at the time of its emergence and far beyond, but as a social and cultural force for change. This documentary series from BBC Studios, which the BBC has supported together with PBS, will highlight many new or untold stories of the genre. I’m looking forward to sharing Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution with audiences on PBS.”

The documentary also underscores disco’s survival. Co-opted by the commercial mainstream, the genre dominated and flooded the market – the airwaves and record shops – leading to a subsequent hate-fueled backlash. As a result, the music and its ethos went back underground, where it evolved into an electronic dance sound that laid the foundations for contemporary dance culture.

A brief overview of the three-part docuseries is as follows:

Episode 1: “Rock the Boat”

Premieres: Tuesday, June 18 at 9 p.m. ET

The opening episode of the series looks at the roots of disco – how it emerged from a basic desire for inclusion, visibility, and freedom among persecuted Black, gay, and minority ethnic communities of New York City. It tells the remarkable story of how a global phenomenon began in the loft apartments and basement bars of New York City, where a new generation of DJs and musicians, like David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Francis Grasso, and Earl Young (The Trammps), pioneered a distinct sound and a new way of spinning records. 

Episode 2: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”

Premieres: Tuesday, June 25 at 9 p.m. ET

Set against the backdrop of Black power and sexual liberation, the second episode takes viewers to the high watermark of disco in the mid ’70s. As disco conquers the mainstream, it turns Black women and gay men into superstars and icons. It is a world where the drag queen Sylvester was king, and Black women found a powerful new voice – one that fused Black Power with a call for sexual freedom. It was the birth of the “disco diva” from Gloria Gaynor and Candi Staton to Donna Summer and Thelma Houston. However, mainstream success by The Bee Gees’ soundtrack album “Saturday Night Fever,” The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,”Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and Studio 54 took disco further and further from its roots of inclusivity and freedom, as straight, white men started to embrace and repackage the sound.

Episode 3: “Stayin’ Alive”

Premieres: Tuesday, July 2 at 9 p.m. ET

The final episode documents the wellspring of resentment from white, straight, male-dominated, rock-loving middle Americans, as they targeted disco for its hedonism, femininity, and queerness. A vocal “Disco Sucks” movement began to gain momentum, culminating in the “Disco Demolition Derby” at Comiskey Park Stadium in Chicago, where organizers destroyed thousands of disco records in front of a baying audience of baseball fans. In addition, the hedonism and sexual liberation embodied by disco found itself stopped in its tracks by the AIDS crisis. Pushed out of the mainstream, the pioneers of disco retreated and regrouped. Cult disco DJ Frankie Knuckles left New York for Chicago, where he remixed disco breaks with R&B to produce a new genre of dance music – house. He and other disco pioneers kept disco alive as it evolved into world electronic dance music.

Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution features some of disco’s originators, musicians, promoters, and innovators, as well as modern-day musical icons, such as: Vince Aletti, Steve Ashkinazy, Bill Bernstein, Joyce Bogart Trabulus, Jocelyn Brown, Carmen D’Alessio, David Depino, Lisa Farrington, Nona Hendryx, Thelma Houston, Marshall Jefferson, Francois Kevorkian, Tina Magennis, Ana Matronic, George McCrae, David Morales, Tom Moulton, Colleen Murphy, John Parikhal, Kim Petras, Mark Riley, Allen Roskoff, Alex Rosner, Michelle Saunders, Jake Shears, Nicky Siano, Candi Staton, Jeanie Tracy, Barry Walters, Dexter Wansel, Anita Ward, Jessie Ware, Sharon White, Victor Willis, Earl Young, Jamie Principle, Robert Williams, Ron Trent, DJ Hollywood, Honey Dijon, and MNEK.

Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution. is a BBC Studios Production for PBS and BBC. The docuseries is produced and directed by Louise Lockwood and Shianne Brown. Catherine Abbott serves as series producer, Flora Stewart as story producer, and Becky Marshall as producer. The executive producing team is Alexander Leith as executive producer and Anna Sadowy as edit executive producer. Tom Hayward is the series director of photography and Grace Chapman is the series director. The commissioning editor for the BBC is Rachel Davies. Jonathan Rothery serves as head of popular music, TV/commissioning editor, factual, alongside Rachel Davies as commissioner.

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